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Classes (F#)

Classes are types that represent objects that can have properties, methods, and events.

// Class definition:
type [access-modifier] type-name [type-params] [access-modifier] ( parameter-list ) [ as identifier ] =
   [ class ]
     [ inherit base-type-name(base-constructor-args) ]
     [ let-bindings ]
     [ do-bindings ]
     member-list
      ...
   [ end ]
// Mutually recursive class definitions:
type [access-modifier] type-name1 ...
and [access-modifier] type-name2 ...
...

Classes represent the fundamental description of .NET object types; the class is the primary type concept that supports object-oriented programming in F#.

In the preceding syntax, the type-name is any valid identifier. The type-params describes optional generic type parameters. It consists of type parameter names and constraints enclosed in angle brackets (< and >). For more information, see Generics (F#) and Constraints (F#). The parameter-list describes constructor parameters. The first access modifier pertains to the type; the second pertains to the primary constructor. In both cases, the default is public.

You specify the base class for a class by using the inherit keyword. You must supply arguments, in parentheses, for the base class constructor.

You declare fields or function values that are local to the class by using let bindings, and you must follow the general rules for let bindings. The do-bindings section includes code to be executed upon object construction.

The member-list consists of additional constructors, instance and static method declarations, interface declarations, abstract bindings, and property and event declarations. These are described in Members (F#).

The identifier that is used with the optional as keyword gives a name to the instance variable, or self identifier, which can be used in the type definition to refer to the instance of the type. For more information, see the section Self Identifiers later in this topic.

The keywords class and end that mark the start and end of the definition are optional.

Mutually recursive types, which are types that reference each other, are joined together with the and keyword just as mutually recursive functions are. For an example, see the section Mutually Recursive Types.

The constructor is code that creates an instance of the class type. Constructors for classes work somewhat differently in F# than they do in other .NET languages. In an F# class, there is always a primary constructor whose arguments are described in the parameter-list that follows the type name, and whose body consists of the let (and let rec) bindings at the start of the class declaration and the do bindings that follow. The arguments of the primary constructor are in scope throughout the class declaration.

You can add additional constructors by using the new keyword to add a member, as follows:

new(argument-list) = constructor-body

The body of the new constructor must invoke the primary constructor that is specified at the top of the class declaration.

The following example illustrates this concept. In the following code, MyClass has two constructors, a primary constructor that takes two arguments and another constructor that takes no arguments.


type MyClass1(x: int, y: int) =
   do printfn "%d %d" x y
   new() = MyClass1(0, 0)


For more information, see Constructors (F#).

The let and do bindings in a class definition form the body of the primary class constructor, and therefore they run whenever a class instance is created. If a let binding is a function, then it is compiled into a member. If the let binding is a value that is not used in any function or member, then it is compiled into a variable that is local to the constructor. Otherwise, it is compiled into a field of the class. The do expressions that follow are compiled into the primary constructor and execute initialization code for every instance. Because any additional constructors always call the primary constructor, the let bindings and do bindings always execute regardless of which constructor is called.

Fields that are created by let bindings can be accessed throughout the methods and properties of the class; however, they cannot be accessed from static methods, even if the static methods take an instance variable as a parameter. They cannot be accessed by using the self identifier, if one exists.

A self identifier is a name that represents the current instance. Self identifiers resemble the this keyword in C# or C++ or Me in Visual Basic. You can define a self identifier in two different ways, depending on whether you want the self identifier to be in scope for the whole class definition or just for an individual method.

To define a self identifier for the whole class, use the as keyword after the closing parentheses of the constructor parameter list, and specify the identifier name.

To define a self identifier for just one method, provide the self identifier in the member declaration, just before the method name and a period (.) as a separator.

The following code example illustrates the two ways to create a self identifier. In the first line, the as keyword is used to define the self identifier. In the fifth line, the identifier this is used to define a self identifier whose scope is restricted to the method PrintMessage.

type MyClass2(dataIn) as self =
   let data = dataIn
   do
       self.PrintMessage()
   member this.PrintMessage() =
       printf "Creating MyClass2 with Data %d" data

Unlike in other .NET languages, you can name the self identifier however you want; you are not restricted to names such as self, Me, or this.

The self identifier that is declared with the as keyword is not initialized until after the let bindings are executed. Therefore, it cannot be used in the let bindings. You can use the self identifier in the do bindings section.

Generic type parameters are specified in angle brackets (< and >), in the form of a single quotation mark followed by an identifier. Multiple generic type parameters are separated by commas. The generic type parameter is in scope throughout the declaration. The following code example shows how to specify generic type parameters.


type MyGenericClass<'a> (x: 'a) = 
   do printfn "%A" x


Type arguments are inferred when the type is used. In the following code, the inferred type is a sequence of tuples.


let g1 = MyGenericClass( seq { for i in 1 .. 10 -> (i, i*i) } )


The inherit clause identifies the direct base class, if there is one. In F#, only one direct base class is allowed. Interfaces that a class implements are not considered base classes. Interfaces are discussed in the Interfaces (F#) topic.

You can access the methods and properties of the base class from the derived class by using the language keyword base as an identifier, followed by a period (.) and the name of the member.

For more information, see Inheritance (F#).

You can define static or instance methods, properties, interface implementations, abstract members, event declarations, and additional constructors in this section. Let and do bindings cannot appear in this section. Because members can be added to a variety of F# types in addition to classes, they are discussed in a separate topic, Members (F#).

When you define types that reference each other in a circular way, you string together the type definitions by using the and keyword. The and keyword replaces the type keyword on all except the first definition, as follows.


open System.IO

type Folder(pathIn: string) =
  let path = pathIn
  let filenameArray : string array = Directory.GetFiles(path)
  member this.FileArray = Array.map (fun elem -> new File(elem, this)) filenameArray

and File(filename: string, containingFolder: Folder) = 
   member this.Name = filename
   member this.ContainingFolder = containingFolder

let folder1 = new Folder(".")
for file in folder1.FileArray do
   printfn "%s" file.Name


The output is a list of all the files in the current directory.

Given the variety of types to choose from, you need to have a good understanding of what each type is designed for to select the appropriate type for a particular situation. Classes are designed for use in object-oriented programming contexts. Object-oriented programming is the dominant paradigm used in applications that are written for the .NET Framework. If your F# code has to work closely with the .NET Framework or another object-oriented library, and especially if you have to extend from an object-oriented type system such as a UI library, classes are probably appropriate.

If you are not interoperating closely with object-oriented code, or if you are writing code that is self-contained and therefore protected from frequent interaction with object-oriented code, you should consider using records and discriminated unions. A single, well thought–out discriminated union, together with appropriate pattern matching code, can often be used as a simpler alternative to an object hierarchy. For more information about discriminated unions, see Discriminated Unions (F#).

Records have the advantage of being simpler than classes, but records are not appropriate when the demands of a type exceed what can be accomplished with their simplicity. Records are basically simple aggregates of values, without separate constructors that can perform custom actions, without hidden fields, and without inheritance or interface implementations. Although members such as properties and methods can be added to records to make their behavior more complex, the fields stored in a record are still a simple aggregate of values. For more information about records, see Records (F#).

Structures are also useful for small aggregates of data, but they differ from classes and records in that they are .NET value types. Classes and records are .NET reference types. The semantics of value types and reference types are different in that value types are passed by value. This means that they are copied bit for bit when they are passed as a parameter or returned from a function. They are also stored on the stack or, if they are used as a field, embedded inside the parent object instead of stored in their own separate location on the heap. Therefore, structures are appropriate for frequently accessed data when the overhead of accessing the heap is a problem. For more information about structures, see Structures (F#).

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